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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Coalition of Willing Is Not the Way to Go

The White House was able to clear enough snow from the driveway to play host to the president of Latvia on Monday, and this weekend President George W. Bush will show Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain around his Texas ranch. In recent weeks Bush has also greeted Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. All this hospitality is an effort to demonstrate that the United States does not stand alone in its determination to force Iraq to disarm, or in its belief that the time is approaching when a war to do so might be justified.

The red carpet treatment is fine, but no one should mistake the coalition that Bush is assembling for the United Nations Security Council.

Let's be realistic about the coercive diplomacy that is being applied to Saddam Hussein. As long as France, Russia and China balk at military action and a majority of other council members hang back, Baghdad will continue to dance around the UN's disarmament orders. The fact that Spain, Italy, Latvia and other nations back Bush doesn't make the war option any more frightening to Hussein. No coalition, however willing, can generate the kind of disarmament pressure on Baghdad that would come with the Security Council's explicit blessing of military action.

Bush's coalition also creates the misleading impression that governments around the world are lining up to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq.

This is not the same coalition that Bush's father assembled in 1991 to evict Iraq from Kuwait. That fraternity included the Security Council, most of the Arab world and Japan, and it contributed more than $50 billion to finance the Persian Gulf War. In the new conflict with Iraq, Washington seems to be issuing more checks than it is depositing, including a possible multibillion-dollar assistance program for Turkey.

The next few weeks of diplomacy are crucial, not just because they offer Iraq one last chance to change course. They also give the United States an opportunity to work with other nations on the Security Council rather than marching off to fashion a more pliable coalition. Bush has repeatedly warned that the Security Council will become irrelevant if it does not come to grips with Iraq. He should not convert that into a self-fulfilling prophecy by turning America's back on the council. However tempting, the satisfaction of playing host to like-minded friends must not dissuade Bush from the challenging but necessary effort to obtain further support from the Security Council.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.